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White House: Trump Believes Millions Voted Illegally; HHS Pick Tom Price Grilled During Senate Confirmation Hearing; China Moving on Trade after Trump's TPP Withdrawal. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, there are so many questions to ask this new administration, the fact that Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, doubled down and said the president, indeed, still believes this, as other reporters here asked, it would be a scandal of epic proportions.

So, I asked Sean Spicer, who, of course, is now the White House press secretary, but he was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Reince Priebus, who is now the chief of staff to the White House was the chairman of the Republican National Committee. So, those were two of the top election officials, election strategists, if you will, if they believe that, and Sean did say he did not believes it.


BALDWIN: BROOKE BALDWIN, CNNA NCHOR: We've got the clip, Jeff. Let me stop you. We've got the clip.

ZELENY: OK, let's watch.

BALDWIN: Let's play his response.

ZELENY: Great.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does the president believe that millions voted illegally in this election? And what evidence do you have of widespread voter fraud in this election if that's the case?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does believe that. He has state that before. I think he stated his concerns of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have present to him.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Exactly what evidence?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Paul Ryan today says there's no evidence. The National Association of Secretaries of State say that they don't agree with the president's assessment. What evidence do you have? SPICER: As I said, I think the president has believed that for a

while based on studies and information he has.

ZELENY: You said that the president believes there was voter fraud. I wonder if you believe that. You were at the Republican National Committee at the time, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was chairman of the RNC at the time. Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud?

SPICER: My job is not -- look, I - this --

ZELENY: How can he be comfortable with his win, if he believes --


SPICER: He's very comfortable with his win.

ZELENY: -- millions of votes. Maybe he didn't win it?

SPICER: No, he's very comfortable with his win. It's an electoral- based system. He got 306 electoral votes. 33 of 50 states voted for him.

I think -- look, Jeff, I've answered this question twice. He believes what he believes based on the information he was provided.

Yes, ma'am?


ZELENY: What does it mean for democracy though?


SPICER: Thanks, Jeff.



ZELENY: If Trump believes that, what does that mean for democracy?

SPICER: It means I've answered your question.


ZELENY: Have you?


ZELENY: Brooke, there you go. That was the exchange with White House press secretary, Sean Spicer.

And, again, we should point out, there are many other questions to be asking him and the president, but this is something that many Republicans believe, and many on Capitol Hill believe that this is a central issue here.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, he told Manu Raju earlier on Capitol Hill, if the president believes this, he needs to point to evidence or it undermines his credibility. He said that attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, should investigate this. So, you also heard that questioning here at the White house, if they would support some type of investigation. Sean Spicer did not close to door. He left it open. But nothing is under way at this point.

But I think they opened something here, Brooke, that they had hoped they closed. This is one example of, when you're president, the things you say before you're president, this matters much more because of the megaphone here of this building, of this podium -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Jeff, thank you.

OK, you brought up Manu. Let's got to Manu Raju, who spoke with Senator Graham.

Jeff alluded to it, but you tell me about that exchange.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, I caught up with Senator Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, who would presumably look into allegations of voter fraud, if they were happening and as widespread as the president of the United States believes. But Senator Lindsey Graham does not think it is wise for the president to be asserting that, believing it would erode the fundamental pillars of our democracy.

Here's a little bit about what he said.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If the president of the United States is claiming that 3.5 million people voted illegally, that shakes confidence in our democracy. He needs to disclose why he believes that. I don't believe that. It's the most inappropriate thing for the president to say without proof. Al Gore walked away based on 500 or 600 votes. Richard Nixon lost a very close election. We're talking about a man who won the election and seems to be obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud. So, I would urge the president to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on earth. You're the leader of the free world. And people are going to start doubting you, as a person, if you keep making acquisitions against our electoral system without justification. This is going to erode his ability to government this country if he does not stop it.


RAJU: So very strong worlds from Senator Graham.

Some Democrats reiterating that as well. Senator Tim Kaine reiterating, we caught up with him as well. The former Democratic vice presidential candidate saying it is a quote, "obvious lie" that Trump was saying that. But also, some Republicans are distancing themselves, not embracing

what Donald Trump is saying, but not wanting to criticize him. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was just asked about these claims. He brushed that aside. House Speaker Paul Ryan suggesting that he does not believe there was voter fraud but didn't really want to expand on his line of thinking. Also, a lot of rank-and-file members not believing this. So, Donald Trump's words putting his party in a difficult spot, but some willing to push back, like Senator Lindsey Graham -- Brooke?

[14:35:22] BALDWIN: Manu, thank you for talking to Republicans and Dems on the hill

Abby Phillip, let me go to you.

The question is, what evidence of voter fraud. What source might they have. We know that the Trump team kept pointing to the source from your paper, from this blog in 2014 that posted "The Washington Post," and it was a study that had been contested by the experts who actually gathered the underlying data. So more or less, this had been refuted, yes?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It has been. And there were studies of the 2016 election that found less than a handful of verified cases of people voting when they weren't supposed to be voting. But beyond that, even if there were 3-5 million people voting illegally that means at the Congressional level, state level would be suspect. That's a really serious claim --


BALDWIN: That's a great point.

PHILLIP: And one we're not hearing Donald Trump making. That's what is so dangerous about this kind of claim is that there is really no evidence of anything of this magnitude went on that would have changed the outcome of the election. And as Lindsey Graham pointed out, Donald Trump won the election, so it's even more perplexing that this has become such an important issue to him, even that he's willing to bring it up in a closed-door meeting with leaders, not of public consumption. It's a reflection of how important it is to him personally.

BALDWIN: That is an excellent point on the validity of the down- ballot races as well.

Abby, thank you.

And Brian Stelter, turning to you, care to comment?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABIE SOURCES: I want to choose my words as carefully as possible, Brooke. We talked about before Donald Trump talked about how the election would be rigged and would undermine the election, but the only thing I can think of for the right word is crazy. It's crazy to think that three to five million people voted illegally, it's just a dark fact. We heard about alternative facts by Kellyanne Conway. The fact is that many Americans believe there is illegal voting. So, the best source is "The New York Times." They reached out to the appropriate authorities in each state and "The Times" found that all 50 states, except Kansas, found no indication of widespread fraud.

I think the question is does Donald Trump want to be remembered as the fake news president? Does he want to be remembered as the conspiracy theory president? I don't think he does. So, he's either got to present evidence or back away from it and acknowledge that the election was successful, and he won. What's next, Brooke, is NASA going to say that the moon is made of green cheese?

BALDWIN: You're looking at me with a straight face, so you're not joking.

STELTER: I am not.

BALDWIN: David, what does this say for his presidency? You outlined how this could undermine democracy.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Let's go with micro and macro. That 14 percent figure is based on a study on 2008 and 2010, a study a couple folks did that who did a study in 2014 said they got it wrong. debunked their own study. I urge everyone to read it. That figure cited is something now that the authors have rejected. That's the micro.

The macro is, Brooke, is how disheartening this is. It is the very foundation of what representative democracy is, of what we are to believe when we go cast that ballot in a voting booth, that then our representatives speak on behalf of us, make laws, enforce those laws. How can any of that happen with the confidence of the country of the people that those in Washington are supposed to represent? How can there be confidence in their work if the very head of that government says that it is all fraudulent? It just simply can't work. So, this really is something that the Trump White House is going to have to right if the country overall is going to continue to have faith in the system.

[14:40:12] BALDWIN: David Chalian, thank you.

We have to continue this conversation.

I do need to take a quick break. Also on the fourth day of his presidency, the executive actions he signed, in addition to several meetings he held, including a meeting with the big-three American automakers. So much happening on this Tuesday.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: All right. Now to the men and women who will help President Trump lead this country. Two of his cabinet choices facing hearings today, advanced through the process. They are transportation secretary nominee, Elaine Chao, and commerce nominee, Wilbur Ross. They were approved by their respective committees and they now will go before the full U.S. Senate.

That has yet to happen for Georgia congressman and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Tom Price. He is Trump's pick to lead Health and Human Services. And today, Democrats, in particular, grilled him on whether he is profiting from his government position.

Let's go to our CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee.

We know Price said the administration is, quote, "committing to no loss in coverage for people who are now covered under Obamacare." That's a mega promise. What else was said?

[14:45:11] M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPROTER: Brooke, we certainly saw sparks fly. This is the second hearing that Tom Price has had. The first was on the financial investments and ethics about his decision to invest where his companies and Congress may have been related. And Democrats are saying his work may have helped him benefit, reap financial benefits, and he reiterated as last week that he didn't do anything illegal.

On Obamacare, he obviously received a lot of questions from Democrats basically asking the question do you stand by what Donald Trump the president has said on Obamacare making sure that everybody has insurance. And you could tell that was a tricky round of questioning for Tom Price because we did want to get ahead of Congress. Republicans are currently trying to work on a replacement plan as they get moving on repealing Obama, and he didn't want to make any promises that he couldn't keep or that Donald Trump couldn't keep.

I want to play some sound from a fascinating exchange that Price has with Senator Sherrod Brown about this replacement plan that President Trump said he is working on. Let's play a little bit of that.



President Trump said he's working with you on a replacement plan for the ACA, which is nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation. Is that true?



BROWN: Not that he's ever done this before but did the president lie?


Did the president lie about this, that he's not working with you? He said he's working with you. I know we don't use the word "lie" here because we're polite when presidents say statements that aren't true, but did he lie to the public about working with you?

PRICE: I've had conversations with the president about health care, yes.

BROWN: Which wasn't quite the answer. So -- do you -- will you commit with this president's plan, commit to maintain the protections for those Ohioans you just committed to in the replacement plan?

PRICE: Our commitment is to make certain that every American has the highest quality care and coverage possible.

BROWN: I'm still not sure whether the president -- not lied to you -- but to us, the public, about whether he's actually working with you. It sounds like he did.


LEE: I don't know, Brooke, if you could hear, but the room at this point burst in laughter. It was certainly uncomfortable for Tom Price. So, unclear at this point whether even the president's HHS secretary, the nominee, if he has details on this plan that Donald Trump says he is working on.

Back to you.

BALDWIN: Bad communication on the details.

M.J. Lee, thank you so much.

Coming up on CNN, breaking news from the White House briefing that just wrapped moments ago. Suddenly, now the story here, President Trump, according to his press secretary, still believes that millions of votes were case illegal in this historic presidential election. What evidence does he have of that? Is there an investigation under way? Lots of questions. We'll delve back into that.

Also ahead, the Trump administration is withdrawing from the Trans- Pacific Partnership, or TPP, but is China now entering into a trade partnership all of its own? Stay with me.


[14:53:00] BALDWIN: No TPP was the central pitch for Candidate Donald Trump who claimed it was harmful to American workers and manufacturing. Day four in office, President Trump has made good on his promise to unravel it. He signed an executive order today to withdraw from former President Obama's signature trade deal that made waves among the Asian capitols banking on the deal to reduce trade barriers, a deal, which the Chinese government has been a long-time critic. So, China is responding with a new regional trade deal of their own.

CNN's Sara Murray is reporting on this.

Today, China is responding. We know, Sara, President Obama negotiated TPP with Pacific Rim countries to keep China in check. What's the White House's response to China negotiating their own deal?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what makes this interesting. Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, talked about how he was going to crack down on China, limit their influence and put American interests first, and then pulls out of TPP. Many see this as a door opened for China to exert their influence. And now China says they're moving forward with their own trade deal.

The Trump administration may clear yesterday that the president wants to pursue bilateral relationships, bilateral trade agreements with some of these country. But that can be a very long process if you're trying to do bilateral agreements. The worry is you have just offered China the runway to exert influence over these Pacific Rim countries, and missed the option to keep their power in check.

BALDWIN: China has a strong response to what Sean Spicer said yesterday on the islands off the South China Sea. What happened there?

MURRAY: The Trump administration had no concern about putting China on edge. I think we saw Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, come out with a muscular response when he was asked about the South China Sea. This is where China has been trying to expand its territory. And Spicer said we are going to defend our interest against any country trying to move in and sort of take over. They're referring to China. And that drew a very sharp response from China, telling Sean Spicer, the Trump administration to exercise caution if they want to maintain peace in that region. That's a little alarming. I don't think anyone, including the Trump administration, is looking for a trade war. But it puts it in a sharper relationship with China heading into that beginning of the Trump administration -- Brooke?

[14:55:42] BALDWIN: Sara, thank you.

Coming up, back to the news that broke at White House briefing today. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said that the president still believes that millions of votes were cast illegally in this past presidential election. CNN pressed him on why. We'll play all of it for you, coming up.